Reproduced from Modern Athlete
and Coach, Vol 37, No 2, April 1999, pps
© Australian Track & Field Coaches Association
By Denis Knowles
An outline of speed strength development, looking at traditional
weight training methods, time controlled speed strength
development and plyometrics. The text is an extract from the
author's Level III qualification dissertation under the
Australian Track and Field Coaches Association's coaching scheme.
Although written for young discus throwers, the speed strength
development aspects are applicable to most power events.
Speed strength is the ability of the neuromuscular system to
produce the greatest possible impulse in the shortest possible
time. The two aspects to speed strength are starting strength and
explosive strength. Starting strength is the force developed in
30ms from the start of a concentric contraction. Explosive
strength is the ability to continue the initiated force as fast
as possible. The time period is approximately 150ms. It is the
maximum rate of force development (RFD) in a maximum isometric
Types of exercises
Olympic lifts (snatch and clean) and their derivatives have
potential for power outputs higher than the so-called
"power" lifts (squat, bench press, deadlift). Other
exercises such as bench press throws (using Smith machine) and
multiple repetition jump squats may provide an excellent
alternative or supplement to the traditional Olympic
weightlifting style movements for the development of speed
strength and for athletes of lower strength levels. The power
produced during jump squats or bench press throws can actually
exceed that of the Olympic lifts.
For effective speed strength development a loading of 80-90% of
IRM (2-5 reps) is recommended for Olympic lifts whereas for bench
press 50-60% of IRM is desirable. For the jump squat 30-40% of
maximum may be more appropriate. The percentage for jump squats
must take into consideration the athletes body weight.
For example, a 100kg athlete with a IRM squat of 180kg has (total
system weight 280kg) x 40% = 112kg (only 12kg above
body weight). Jump squats for this athlete need only be done with
The use of heavy and light loads in the same training session is
referred to as the contrasting load method.
Russian Complex: The Russian method involves a continual
alternating between heavy and light loads in the same training
Back squats: 2 sets x 2-3 repetitions at 90% of IRM. The
eccentric and concentric movements are executed slowly. Rest 3-4
minutes between sets and 4-6 minutes after second set.
Drop jumps: 2 sets of 10 repetitions (height needs to be
established to suit the individual). Rest 3-4 minutes between
sets. The complex is repeated 2-3 times per training session with
8-10 minutes rest between complexes.
Bulgarian method: The Bulgarian method begins with high
intensity exercise working down to resistance against body
weight. For example:
90% (4) 95% (3) 97.5% (2) 95%(4) 90% (4) (For maximal strength)
Rest 3-4 minutes between sets and 5-6 minutes after all sets.
Timed squats: Perform as many repetition squats in 10
seconds at 60% intensity. (For explosive strength).
Jump squats: Perform as many repetition squats in 10
seconds at 30% intensity. (For explosive power).
Jump-ups: Perform as many repetition jumps in 10 seconds
without any load. (For speed strength).
TIME CONTROLLED SPEED STRENGTH METHODS (TCSSM)
TCSSM controls the duration of the rest intervals between the
sets and between the repetitions. The duration of rest between
sets should be 5 minutes. Taking for example the bench press
throw for upper body speed strength development, it is desirable
to work in an intensity zone between 50% and 60%. Using TCSSM the
number of repetitions are established by feedback of the time per
rep and the recovery time between reps. After the first
repetition it is important that the second, third and subsequent
reps are executed with a speed reduction of below 10% of the
first rep in the preparation period and below 5% of the first rep
in the competition period. To do this the lift must be done with
speed and without deceleration (the reason for bench press
throws). If the speed reductions are too great and incompatible
with the training goal of speed strength they imply strength
endurance loads and induce left transformations of the fibre
Referring to table 1, if working at 50% of IRMN the athlete could
lift rhythmically up to 5 reps and stay below 10% of speed
reduction in the preparation phase but, working at the same
intensity in the competition phase, would need a rest between
reps of 9 seconds for 5 reps in order to keep the speed reduction
below the desired 5%.
|Rest between reps. (sec.)
||Speed reduction 10%
Reps per set in prep phase
|Speed reduction 5%
Reps per set in com. phase
|0 (i.e. rhythmical)
The advice from Professor Tidow is that the sequence of HM, NAM,
TCSSM can be repeated three times annually as follows:
1. 4-6 weeks of hypertrophy methods (up to 8 weeks is permissible
if the athlete requires muscle mass)
2. 3-4 weeks of neuronal activation method.
3. 3-6 weeks of time controlled speed strength methods.
In the week before a major competition TCSSM once only could be
enough, three days before competing e.g. lift on Wednesday,
Plyometric training causes an increase in maximum rate of force
development. Verkhoshansky suggests that traditional weight
programs which incorporate plyometrics are superior to those that
do not include plyometrics. The Russian and Bulgarian speed
strength methods mentioned earlier employ plyometrics in the
Plyometries is a familiar term amongst athletes and coaches and
has been defined as exercises that enable a muscle to reach
maximum strength in as short a time as possible. This speed
strength ability is known as power.
Other definitions include: "Powerful muscufar contractions
after rapid stretching or dynamic loading of the same muscle
group" and "Quick powerful movements that involve a
pre-stretch of a muscle just before its contraction."
(Pezzullo) Another term for this type of muscle action is the
Muscle elasticity is an important factor in understanding how the
stretch-shortening cycle can produce more power than a simple
concentric muscle contraction. The muscles can briefly store the
tension developed by rapid stretching so that they possess a sort
of potential efastic energy.
To use this stored energy and to achieve maximum results with
plyometrics the concentric contraction must immediately follow
the application of load and the preceding eccentric contraction
should be of short range and rapid. In other words the faster a
muscle is stretched the greater its concentric force after the
stretch. The result is a more forceful movement for overcoming
the inertia of an object e.g. a 1 kg discus. Throws coaches will
often refer to pre-stretching or pre-tension e.g. pre-tension
across the chest prior to delivering a discus. The period during
which the muscle changes from an eccentric to a concentric
contraction is called the coupling time and the greater force
developed is associated with the shortest coupling time. Bosco et
al (1982) proposed that individuals with a high percentage of
fast twitch fibres in the leg muscles exhibit a maximum
plyometric effect when the eccentric phase is short, movement
range is small and coupling time is brief.
On the other hand, subjects with a high percentage. of slow
twitch fibres produce their best jumping performance when the
eccentric phase is longer, movement range is greater and the
coupling time is longer. Also the degree of flexion of the limb
(e.g. knee when doing single leg hops) should not be too
excessive because the larger the eccentric movement the greater
the loss of elastic tension. The rate of stretch rather than the
magnitude of stretch determines the extent of elastic energy
boosting that the muscle receives following an eccentric
The stretch reflex is another mechanism integral to the
stretch-shortening cycle and is of importance to throwers. The
stretch reflex responds to the rate at which a muscle is
stretched and is faster than other reflexes. A voluntary response
to muscle stretch would be too late to be of any use to a
Hopping, skipping, jumping, bounding, depth jumps and medicine
ball rebounding are exercises commonly used in plyometrics.
Cones, hurdles, stairs, benches and boxes of various heights also
Depth jumping is not recommended for the young athlete because of
the large forces exerted. 1 believe depth jumps are often the
reason for avulsion fractures in young athletes. The young or
beginner athlete should begin with less intense exercises such as
hopping, skipping and bounding, progressing to jumps over low
hurdles and then lead up to the high impact exercises of depth
jumping after some years of conditioning.
- A thorough warm-up is essential incorporating jogging,
stretching and general mobility about the joints involved in the
- The surface must not be too hard or too soft. Concrete is not
recommended. A good resifient grass surface or softer type
synthetic surface is best.
- Footwear needs to be of good quality with a cushioned sole and
a strong heel cup.
- Exercises must be selected appropriate to the athlete and to
the period of training.
- Depth jumps should only be performed after a good strength
conditioning period and lower intensity plyometrics such as
skipping and bounding. The beginning height should then be
relatively low and increased gradually. The optimal height of the
box should not result in a landing where the heel is forced to
the ground by momentum. The athlete should fall off the box in a
relaxed state, not jump.
The dosage of depth jumps should not exceed 2-3 sets of 5-8
repetitions for the lesser conditioned athlete and 4 sets of 10
for the well conditioned athlete.
The rest intervals between sets of maximal plyometric exercises
should be about 10 minutes for speed strength development. During
this rest interval the athlete can do some easy running and
- Depth jumps are used late in the preparation period of a yearly
cycle, but can also be used during the competition period about
once every 10 to 14 days and not later than 10 days before a
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